This passage, again from “The Temptations of Jean-Claude Killy” (1970), I’m posting just because it made me laugh out loud. We can always use that. It takes place at a car show in Chicago and features a cameo by O.J. Simpson, then an NFL rookie.
Jean-Claude makes his pitch for Chevrolet every two hours on the button: 1–3–5–7–9. The even numbered hours are reserved for O.J. Simpson.
Barker: “Tell me, O.J., are you faster than that car over there?”
O.J.: You mean that groovy Chevrolet? Naw, man, that’s the only thing I know that’s faster than me… ho, ho….”
Meanwhile, slumped in the folding chair near the Killy exhibit, smoking a pipe and brooding on the spooks in this place, I am suddenly confronted by three young boys wearing Bass Weejuns and Pendleton shirts, junior-high types, and one of them asks me: “Are you Jean-Claude Killy?”
“That’s right,” I said.
“What are you doing?” they asked.
Well, you goddamn silly little waterhead, what the hell does in look like I’m doing? But I didn’t say that. I gave the question some thought. “Well,” I said finally, “I’m just sitting here smoking marijuana.” I held up my pipe. “This is what makes me ski so fast.”
Their eyes swelled up like young grapefruits. They stared at me — waiting for a laugh, I think — then backed away. Five minutes later I looked up and found them still watching me, huddled about twenty feet away behind the sky-blue Z-28 Chevvy on its slow-moving turntable. I waved my pipe at them and smiled like Hubert Humphrey…but they didn’t wave back.
This excerpt from Hunter’s profile of the skier Jean-Claude Killy, circa 1970, is relevant to current events in a slightly different way from some of the other pieces I’ve been posting. See if you can spot it.
I boarded the plane and instantly found myself involved in a game of musical chairs with the couple who were being moved back to the tourist compartment so Jean-Claude and I could have their first-class seats. “I’ve blocked these two off for you,” the man in the blue uniform told me.
The dowdy little stewardess told the victims how sorry she was — over and over again, while the man howled in the aisle. I hunkered down in the seat and stared straight ahead, wishing him well…. “You sons of bitches!” he yelled, shaking his fist at the crewmen who were pushing him back towards the tourist section. I was hoping he would whack one of them or at least refuse to stay on the plane but he caved in, allowing himself to be hustled off like a noisy beggar.
“What was that about?” Killy asked me.
I told him. “Bad scene, eh?” he said. Then he pulled a car racing magazine out of his briefcase and focused on that. I thought of going back and advising the man that he could get a full refund on his ticket if he kept yelling, but the flight was delayed for at least an hour on the runway and I was afraid to leave my seat for fear it might be grabbed by some late-arriving celebrity.
Within moments, a new hassle developed. I asked the stewardess for a drink and was told that it was against the rules to serve booze until the plane was airborne. Thirty minutes later, I got the same answer. There is something in the corporate manner of United Airlines that reminds me of the California Highway Patrol, the exaggerated politeness of people who would be a hell of a lot happier if all their customers were in jail — and especially you, sir.
How long, oh Lord, how long? And how much longer will we have to wait before some high-powered shark with a fistful of answers will finally bring us face-to-face with the ugly question that is already so close to the surface in this country, that sooner or later even politicians will have to cope with it?
Is the democracy worth all the risks and problems that necessarily go with it? Or, would we all be happier by admitting that the whole thing was a lark from the start and now that it hasn’t worked out, to hell with it.
—“Fear and Loathing in the Bunker,” 1974
A good month after finishing Hell’s Angels, I finally cracked open The Great Shark Hunt to look for material of current interest. It didn’t take long. The first piece after the Author’s Note is called “Fear and Loathing in the Bunker,” and on the second page Hunter says:
Nixon…was blessed with a mixture of arrogance and stupidity that caused him to blow the boilers almost immediately after taking command. By bringing in hundreds of thugs, fixers and fascists to run the Government, he was able to crank almost every problem he touched into a mindbending crisis. About the only disaster he hasn’t brought down on us yet is a nuclear war with either Russia or China or both…but he still has time, and the odds of his actually doing it are not all that long.
This seems especially apropos in a week where President Von Clownstick discovered how much fun it is to bomb people. First it was Syria, then Afghanistan, and North Korea may be next:
China warned on Friday that tensions on the Korean Peninsula could run out of control, after North Korea said it could test a nuclear weapon whenever its top leader, Kim Jong-un, decided, and as an American naval group neared the peninsula in a show of resolve.
“The United States and South Korea and North Korea are engaging in tit for tat, with swords drawn and bows bent, and there have been storm clouds gathering,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said in Beijing. (New York Times, 4/14/2017).
America has been breeding mass anomie since the end of World War II. It is not a political thing, but the sense of new realities, of urgency, anger and sometimes desperation in a society where even the highest authorities seem to be grasping at straws.
The above was written in reference to the Hell’s Angels, circa 1966, but just imagine how much worse things have gotten 50 years down the line. Well, I guess you don’t really have to…all you have to do is look around.
My call for a visitation from the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson has so far gone unheeded, so I have decided to embark on a rereading of the complete HST oeuvre, starting with Hell’s Angels. When appropriate, I will share a few choice bits.
Parts of HA seem oddly relevant in the current landscape, particularly the portrayal of people whose politics are consistently at odds with their own self-interest. (“The Angels will be among the first to be locked up or croaked if the politicians they think they agree with ever come to power.”) The following could easily refer to a certain subset of Von Clownstick voters, could it not?
Their lack of education has not only rendered them completely useless in a highly technical economy, but it has also given them the leisure to cultivate a powerful resentment…and to translate it into a destructive cult.